The Minnesota Golden Gophers travel to Los Angeles to face USC at the Coliseum in the season opener, with the Trojans looking to build off a rather disappointing 2010 season.
USC is ranked 25th and go into Saturday's game as 23.5-point favorites against the Golden Gophers.
Lane Kiffin is loaded with some explosive players. The Trojans have talented receivers in sophomore Robert Woods and senior Brandon Carswell, along with freshmen George Farmer, Kyle Prater, and Marqise Lee. They will have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Matt Barkely throwing them the ball this season.
With the suspension of Marc Tyler, Kiffin has four running backs to choose from. The bulk of the carries could go to redshirt junior Curtis McNeal, a short but powerful tailback. Sophomore Dillon Baxter is a speedy back with tremendous versatility, and should receive plenty of carries, and is a receiving threat, as well. Redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan spent last season rehabbing his torn ACL, and has been impressive in practices. Amir Carlisle, a true freshman, has received rave reviews for his skills and maturity.
The Golden Gophers are coming off a terrible season where they finished 3-9. They have a new coach in Jerry Kill, and a new quarterback in junior MarQueis Gray, a 6'4 wide receiver who has been converted to quarterback. The Trojans are coming off a season where they struggled with their tackling, and USC have had their problems in the past with quarterbacks who can scramble, so Gray could be a difference-maker for Kill on Saturday.
Minnesota are led by running back Duane Bennett and receiver Da'Jon McKnight, who are both seniors. Last season, Bennett rushed for 529 yards on 123 carries, and McKnight caught 48 passes for 750 yards.
Kill will be expected to improve a defense that gave up an average of 33 points per game. Minnesota only recorded nine sacks the entire 2010 season.
Two USC defensive players to watch for are sophomore corner Nickell Robey and junior free safety T.J. McDonald, who made names for themselves last season. Meanwhile, defensive ends Wes Horton and Nick Perry are considered among the best in the PAC 12. Freshman linebacker Lamar Dawson has great potential was awarded the coveted No. 55 jersey.
Prediction: The Trojans have a very competent quarterback in Barkley and he will likely be aggressive and take some chances by getting the freshmen receivers involved. The Gophers' defense is strong up the middle, and they have speed at linebacker, which can keep them in the game. The Minnesota defense must step up and force turnovers, while the offense will need to run some clock to keep the defense rested. Expect the USC offense to make major adjustments in the second half as Kiffin will use the first game of the season to try out different players and experiment with different plays.
Predicted Score: USC 45, Minnesota 17